Thinking Outside The Big Box

When your favorite big box retailer closes locations or goes out of business the ripple effect is seen throughout the community: loss of jobs, tax revenue, changed shopping habits and traffic patterns to name a few. But one big thing remains. The big box itself.

As America’s shopping habits have morphed, boxes that used to be home to retailers such as Kmart and Circuit City are left empty. And although there aren’t as many traditional retailers ready to backfill these spaces, some creative thinking—outside the box—is leading to unique alternative reuses.

Fitness is a category that works with many boxes. Edge Fitness Clubs, with locations in New Jersey and Connecticut, have found that retrofitting suburban boxes is a cost-efficient way to open large fitness centers with multiple spaces for classes, a sprawling gym floor, even zones for kids while mom and dad are in spin class. Rock climbing facilities and trampoline parks like Urban Air have also found a perfect home in the expansive areas and high ceilings of former retail boxes.

Many health care providers are choosing existing boxes rather than building. The same features that appeal to retailers—good visibility, sufficient population, ample parking, the right mix of income and demographics for the brand—can work for specialties like pediatrics or cancer treatment. Those qualities also work for large international grocery chains like Aldi, for discount furniture stores and self-storage facilities.

Elsewhere in the country local governments are finding that the vacant Wal-Mart down the road would be perfect for a new library, charter school or community college. They’ve calculated that it’s a lot more affordable to retrofit the retail space than design and build from the ground up.

But not all boxes are suitable for reuse. Many potential tenants want wide frontage and high ceilings, not yesterday’s old Kmart models that are too narrow in the front, too deep and have ceiling heights that are too low. In those cases owners might choose to demo the box and redevelop the site as apartments or senior housing. These residential and mixed use developments are gaining in popularity on sites that were formerly retail.

The key is flexibility. As every landlord knows, it’s rare to find a potential tenant who loves the vacant box just the way it is. Being able to work with a tenant to create fresh, functional space that works with the tenant’s brand will go far to assure everyone’s success.

Copyright 2017 Metro Commercial Real Estate, LLC